Wall Street Journal: Foxconn Says 11 Injured in Large-Scale Fight at Chinese Campus

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher

September 23 2013

By Paul Mozur

BEIJING—Foxconn Technology Co. said a large fight that broke out last week at one of its campuses injured 11 people, the latest in a series of confrontations among the company's workers that follows a summer of heightened unrest at Chinese factories.

The fight between two different groups initially broke out Thursday after workers gathered and drank alcohol to celebrate China's Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, according to Foxconn. The fight attracted a crowd of 300 to 400 people, the company said.

Two days later, members of the two groups again confronted and yelled at each other, the company said, adding that police quickly defused the situation.

As the world's largest contract manufacturer of electronics, Foxconn assembles devices for a host of international companies including Apple Inc., Nintendo Co., Sony Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Photos and a video of the latest fight, the authenticity of which couldn't be independently verified, spread around Chinese social media Monday. The images showed a group of about 40 shirtless men brandishing pipes and sticks on the campus. In the video, police sought to restrain the men amid loud shouting.

The police are currently dealing with those involved in the fight, according to the company, while the situation at the plant, in the eastern Chinese city of Yantai, is quiet.

The violence at the Foxconn plant follows a similar, though much larger-scale, fight last year at another facility in which an argument between two allegedly drunken workers escalated into unrest involving about 2,000 workers.

In both cases, the rapid escalation from a single dispute to a larger-scale confrontation shows the challenges faced by Foxconn as it seeks to manage hundreds of thousands of young workers. Labor activists argue that such quick escalations show the pressure many workers, who travel far from home to work long hours, are under at Foxconn plants. Others say that it is in part the result of the strict, military-style management of Foxconn's facilities.

Managing such pressure at large production facilities presents a challenge for Foxconn, which has been under the microscope since a spate of suicides at its factories in 2009. The company has defended its conduct, but last year it agreed to change its labor practices after an outside audit of its Chinese factories found widespread breaches of work rules, including 60-hour workweeks and other health and safety violations.

The unrest comes after a summer of turmoil at China's factories. According to data compiled by China Labour Bulletin, there were a total of 183 strikes and protests from June to August, more than double the amount during the same period of 2012. Over the same period, China's economic growth has slowed and pressure for higher wages has intensified.

"Large-scale fights simply do not break out at well-run factories with a contented and well-paid workforce," said Geoff Crothall, a spokesman for China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based rights group.

Foxconn didn't respond to a question of whether the fights were related to practices at its factories, but said the initial dispute was "of a personal nature" and that it is cooperating with local authorities as they investigate the incident. A press officer with the Party Working Committee of the Yantai Economic and Technological Development Zone said authorities are still investigating whether the fight was between workers from Guizhou and Shandong provinces, as reports on Chinese social media said.

The Yantai facility was the focus of controversy last year after Foxconn admitted that it had hired interns as young as 14 years old at the facility. At the time, Foxconn said it took "immediate steps" to return the interns to their educational institutions. It didn't elaborate further.

To combat rising costs and high worker turnover, Foxconn has been moving its factories inland from the more-expensive Chinese coasts. The pliant first-generation migrant workers who staffed factories a decade ago have become more savvy about their rights and more willing to stand up for them. The second generation that has joined them on the factory floor are better-educated and more plugged-in.

Some labor experts attribute more strikes and violence at China's factories in recent years to this generational shift and the increased awareness of workers.

—Kersten Zhang and Yang Jie contributed to this article.

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